If you are lucky enough to have a light table in your classroom, then you know the benefits of having such an equipment in an inquiry driven classroom. Light tables offer students a different way of viewing everyday materials; inevitably presenting a new perspectives and meanings of things that are just ‘ordinary’. It can be used in a variety of ways and in many different subject areas. I have used it for inquiries into math, language and phonics, scienece..i mean the options are endless! All you need is some confidence, zeal and trust in your students that it will be used in the right way.
In the kindergarten class I worked with last year, there was a light table neatly stowed away behind a shelving unit. After inquiring into that awkwardly hidden contraption in the corner, I quickly came to realize many teachers (especially those in the kindergarten/pre school realm) are hesitant in utilizing light tables as a means of instruction and tool of inquiry. And I too can understand where the anxiety and frustration lie in using such a tool; there are several safety concerns that can present itself quickly in a classroom of 20-30 5 year olds not to mention, what do I do with this apparatus?! But the key is to trust that once a value is placed on an item, it will be taken care of and used appropriately.
First and for most, if you are interested in some ideas as to how to use a light table in your classroom or at home, you are going to need one. Many schools are very lucky in the fact that they have one readily available. Likewise, Amazon has many great options for light tables (links here).
Don’t fret, for my fellow DIY connoisseurs there are loads of great DIY ideas on how to make a light table for your inquiry space (Link DIY and steps). This is something I plan on doing for my classroom.
This is a great DIY I found on pintrest https://www.pinterest.com/pin/203858320604864171/
So now, there you have it; a new light table. Now what? Right…you probably want to know how to use it. I could go into this long spiel on how to use it in the most effective way to support the inquiry at home or in your classroom, but the reality is that there is really not set handbook or guideline on how to use a light table in your inquiry space. The most benefical way to think about how light tables could possibly work in any learning environment is through a couple or real life examples that have come to be success stories on how to effectively use light tables in an inquiry space.
One subject area I loved to use a light table is language and supporting language acquisition, especially in the midst of EAL students. Language in the form of reading and writing can become a very anxious and scary feat for many students especially those who are tasked with learning a new language! ‘playing’ on a light table eliminates the anxiety that might be endured by students when immersed in a traditional learning setting. When our class began to learn our first sight words, the light table was used to get the students to become more familiarized with the words and what letters and letter sounds were needed to make the word. Using transparency paper, we wrote the sight words and cut them up in cue card form. We also took mini glasses and using permanent markers (if I did this again I would use colored markers… color makes everything more fun!) wrote the letters of the alphabet. We were hoping that the students would use the glasses to spell the sight words but the truth is that my co teacher and I did not give specific direction to the students on how to use these materials (supporting inquiry and student led learning), but what we instantly found was that the students were matching the glasses with the corresponding letters needed to make the sight word. They were stacking them, reading them out to each other; the students really led the inquiry and learning experience at the light table when introduced to these materials.
In our math unit, we had the students engage with different 2d and 3d shapes. I don’t know about you, but our students were OBSESSED with monsters and superheroes, but that’s normal for 4-5 year olds. We gave students pieces of transparency paper to draw and create their own superhero. When the table began to fill up with various superheroes, students began engaging with their friends superhero and almost instantaneously began to pinpoint which shapes their friends incorporated in their heroes. Whats not pictured here is the introduction of little plastic 2d shapes that we put on the light table when we started to realize they began to inquire into shapes in plain sight. The students began to match up the plastic shapes to the part of the superhero that resembled a 2d shape.
These are just two ideas on how to use a light table to enhance and inspire inquiry at home or in your classroom. The possibilities are endless, just use your imagination! If you have any other great ideas and examples of how you used a light table in your learning environment, leave it in the comments below!